Researching Food Habits: Methods and Problems

Researching Food Habits: Methods and Problems

Researching Food Habits: Methods and Problems

Researching Food Habits: Methods and Problems


The term 'Anthropology of Food' has become an accepted abbreviation for the study of anthropological perspectives on food, diet and nutrition, an increasingly important subdivision of anthropology that encompasses a rich variety of perspectives, academic approaches, theories, and methods. Its multi-disciplinary nature adds to its complexity. This is the first publication to offer guidance for researchers working in this diverse and expanding field of anthropology.


Anthropology is a broad school. It always has been. During its emergence in the nineteenth century the umbrella term ‘anthropology’ sheltered a surprisingly wide range of subjects: from the measuring of people’s skulls to see if they were of the criminal types to those campaigning against the evils of slavery. So long as any particular approach embraced the study of humans as social beings it could fit in within the broad rubric of ‘anthropology’ (from the Greek anthropos, human). In this sense anthropology is not so much a discipline, more a loose collection of several different disciplines. Even today the term embraces both laboratory-based molecular geneticists and the most abstracted of social theorists, both those interested in the effect of biological variables within human populations and those researching social dimensions of cognitive processes. In the United States the term has an even broader scope, at times encompassing archaeologists and linguists as well. The leading historian of the subject, George Stocking (2001), has gone so far as to call it the ‘boundless discipline’.

Anthropology may indeed be boundless but it has a very dynamic boundlessness. The various disciplines usually grouped within anthropology have come together and moved apart more than once over the course of its history. In particular the physical and the social sides underwent a radical separation from the late-1920s on: the intellectual abuses committed in those times by certain racist anthropologists, especially in Nazi Germany, put many off studying almost any form of physical anthropology for a long period. At much the same time many social anthropologists were keen to establish their own academic distinctiveness and independence (MacClancy 1986, 1995). Despite the exemplary antiracist campaigning of some physical anthropologists who destroyed the scientific credibility of the concept of ‘race’, it still took several decades for an expanded physical anthropology to regain popularity. By then its leading practitioners had renamed thenum="vii" pgid="pg7" pubid="b1528428" type="preface">

Preface to the Series


At the turn of the twenty-first century the very term “history” brings extremely ambivalent associations to mind. On the one hand, the last 10–15 years have witnessed numerous declarations of history’s end. In referring to the fundamental change of the global political situation around 1989/90, or to postmodernism or to the challenge of Western dominance by decolonization and multiculturalism, “history”—as we know it—has been declared to be dead, outdated, overcome, and at its end. On the other hand, there has been a global wave of intellectual explorations into fields that are “historical” in their very nature: the building of personal and collective identity through “memory”, the cultural, social and political use and function of “narrating the past”, and the psychological structures of remembering, repressing and recalling. Even the subjects that seemed to call for an “end of history” (globalization, postmodernism, multiculturalism) quickly turned out to be intrinsically “historical” phenomena. Moreover, “history” and “historical memory” have also entered the sphere of popular culture (from history-channels to Hollywood movies). They also have become an ever important ingredient of public debates and political negotiations (e.g., to take the discussions about the aftermath of the wars in the former Yugoslavia, about the European unification or about the various heritages of totalitarian systems). In other words, ever since “history” has been declared to be at its end, “historical matters” seem to have come back with a vengeance.

This paradox . . .

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